Don’t expect a quick resolution to the Royals’ efforts to retain free-agent pitcher Jeremy Guthrie. All signs point to Guthrie waiting for Zack Greinke and Anibal Sánchez to set the offseason market for starting pitchers.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
“I think he’s looking at other opportunities, and we’ll see where that goes,” said general manager Dayton Moore, who is attending the annual meeting of his peers this week in Indian Wells, Calif.
“It’s hard to predict what is going to happen with a lot of these guys in free agency. It only takes one or two clubs…He’s looking to get the best deal.”
Guthrie, 33, is believed to be seeking a three-year contract for $34 million after resurrecting a lost season by going 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 16 starts after arriving in a July 20 trade from Colorado. He was 3-9 and 6.35 in 19 games for the Rockies.
Industry insiders contend Guthrie’s price will come down but are mixed in predicting how far down.
Former general manager Jim Bowden, now an ESPN analyst, provides a low-end prediction at $12 million over two years. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com cites an “industry expert” projecting $14 million over two years. Heyman predicted $27 million over three years.
Those figures should keep the Royals in play for Guthrie unless they succeed in acquiring other starters while he gauges the market.
“A lot of guys could be a good fit,” Moore said. “We’re looking at everything. It’s obviously very early in the process with free agents. We’re looking at trade possibilities as well.”
Those efforts already netted right-hander Ervin Santana from the Angels in a deal for minor-league reliever Brandon Sisk. It was a salary dump by the Angels that adds $12 million to the Royals’ payroll.
And it is not without risk: Other clubs were scared off by persistent reports that Santana has a small ligament tear in his elbow. He is coming off a 9-13 season that saw him post a 5.16 ERA in 30 starts – although he was 5-3 and 3.76 in his last 11 outings.
Moore dismissed those concerns.
“This is a routine issue that pitchers have,” he said. “He had an (elbow) issue back in 2009. He’s pitched since then. He’s had MRIs like every other pitcher does at the end of the year.
“If our medical people hadn’t cleared him, we wouldn’t have done the deal. He’s no different from anyone else who is pitching.”
The elbow problem, if there is one, hasn’t stopped Santana from being the sort of workhorse the Royals coveted; he averaged 32 starts and 210 innings over the last three years while compiling a 4.08 ERA.
The Royals also added right-handers Guillermo Moscoso and Chris Volstad through recent waiver claims. Club officials regard both as depth, i.e., they will likely be given a chance to pitch their way into the rotation but have no guarantee of a spot.
Sánchez and Kyle Lohse – along with Guthrie – continue to top the club’s free-agent wish list, but fierce competition might push both beyond reach. Alternative possibilities include Brandon McCarthy, Scott Feldman, Shaun Marcum and Joe Blanton.
Industry projections on Sánchez generally start at four years at $56 million or more. Projections are slightly less for Lohse in part because a team would lose a draft pick in compensation.
Moore said he’s “not operating under any directive on a certain amount for our payroll,” but a best guess is it won’t top $75 million – and might not exceed $70 million. It was $64 million at the start of last season.
The Royals currently have roughly $40 million in guaranteed salaries to eight players on their 40-man roster (including minor-league pitcher Noel Arguelles). It should take about $22 million to sign everyone else.
Do the math.
The Royals can probably afford Guthrie or someone in his anticipated price range. Any other impact addition for the rotation will likely come through a trade, where the price figures to be one of the club’s top young position players.
“If you’re looking for pitching,” said one veteran official from a rival club, “there are only three places to go: Tampa Bay, Seattle and Atlanta.”
The Rays and Mariners are favorable matchups because both need to boost run production, but the Braves might be a better bet because Moore and several other club officials have deep Atlanta roots.
The Royals and Braves talked a year ago but couldn’t reach agreements on Derek Lowe or Jair Jurrjens. Cleveland got Lowe because it was willing to pay more of his guaranteed salary; the Jurrjens’ talks stalled because the Braves wanted outfield prospect Wil Myers.
Atlanta is now bracing for the anticipated departure of free-agent Michael Bourn, which creates a hole in center field, and shows interest in Lorenzo Cain as a possible replacement.
Right-hander Tommy Hanson is likely available. He was 13-10 with a 4.48 ERA in 31 starts but struggled in the closing weeks because of a back problem. Julio Teheran or Randall Delgado might also be in play at a higher price.
Catcher Manny Piña agreed to a minor-league deal with the Royals less than a week after being assigned outright to Class AAA Omaha once he cleared waivers.
Piña, 25, suffered torn knee cartilage in spring training that limited him to six games at Rookie-level Surprise and 43 games at Class AA Northwest Arkansas. He batted .278 with five homers and 25 RBIs.
The Royals recalled Piña to the big leagues on Sept. 1, but he appeared in only one game. He will be eligible for selection next month in the Rule 5 draft, but a team must keep him in the majors for the entire 2013 season or offer him back to the Royals.
• Former Royals outfielder Mitch Maier recently signed a minor-league deal with Boston. Maier, 30, batted .248 with 10 homers and 93 RBIs in 360 games over parts of six big-league seasons.